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The healthcare sector in the UAE is rapidly advancing, marked by state-of-the-art infrastructure, cutting-edge technologies, and exceptional services. This progress is drawing the attention of industry experts to pinpoint key areas for strategic growth, intending to revolutionise healthcare across the Middle East. The emphasis is on leveraging these developments to forge a healthcare system that is not only sustainable and accessible but also serves as a model for the region. In line with this focus, a panel discussion titled “Advancing Healthcare in the GCC: Strategic Growth Enabling Opportunities” was held at the recent 2nd Elets Global Healthcare Summit and Awards in Dubai. Our panelists engaged in in-depth discussions, sharing their insights and visions. Edited excerpts:

Dr. Ravi Gupta, Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Elets Group LLC

Dubai is a hub of innovation, actively inviting the private sector to participate significantly in every sector of its economy. Healthcare is no exception. The thriving collaboration between the private sector and public initiatives in Dubai is a noteworthy example. This model serves as an inspiration for many other countries looking to engage more effectively with the private sector.

Dr Ibtesam AlBastaki, Director – Investment and Public-Private Partnership Department, Dubai Health Authority

“Healthcare investment and public-private partnerships have been gaining momentum in Dubai since 2018, following the approval of an investment strategy by the Crown Prince. This initiative arose as the private sector began to play a more dominant role in Dubai’s healthcare market, in line with the vision of His Highness Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The aim is to support and engage private entities, allowing them to complement public services in delivering efficient and effective healthcare to the population”, shared Dr Ibtesam AlBastaki at 2nd Elets Global Healthcare Summit & Awards.

Dubai’s advantages as a healthcare hub are numerous, not least its robust infrastructure, particularly in transportation. Another notable aspect is the demographic distribution, with a significant proportion of the population being young, ranging from birth up to 65 years of age. This demographic plays a key role in shaping the types of healthcare services and specialisations that are in demand.

She further added, “The private sector currently accounts for approximately 80% of the market share in terms of inpatient and outpatient services, with the remaining 20% managed by the government. This shift has prompted a greater focus on supporting the private sector and attracting more private entities to the Dubai healthcare market. These include not only healthcare facilities and professionals but also pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare industries.”

A significant part of this strategy involves Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects. Dubai is working on unique projects, particularly in establishing centres of excellence, to bring top-notch healthcare services to the market. A key objective is to attract international players to the Dubai market, many of whom are already collaborating closely with the public sector for the benefit of patients.

“Ultimately, the goal is to create a win-win situation where public and private sectors can complement each other, thereby enhancing the sustainability and quality of healthcare in Dubai. This approach aims to integrate global expertise and local insights to elevate the standard of healthcare services available to all residents”, she concluded.

Dr Mohammed Aljohani, Director, Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia

Dr Mohammed Aljohani said, “The strategy we adopt depends on the specific issue at hand, what we aim to resolve, and the domain in which we wish to operate. For instance, one of the key goals in our Vision 2030 is to enhance access to healthcare, which is critical for us. We need to ensure easy access for patients, as we all might one day become patients in our hospitals. It’s essential to leave a lasting legacy in our health services to support and facilitate care for our community.”

“As a medical director at King Faisal General Hospital in a healthcare cluster, we’ve had the opportunity to implement several strategies to overcome limited access to healthcare. One of our plans involves dividing the medical services we provide into four phases: starting with preventive services, improving the quality of life, addressing emergency needs, and managing chronic diseases”, he added.

To improve in-home care services, which was a challenging business model to overcome, we implemented a pilot study within our community. This involved providing monitoring devices to patients, turning them into the source of data for their health situations. The idea was to empower patients with the literacy and ability to make informed decisions about their health. We emphasised empowering patient autonomy in choosing their desired health outcomes.

Additionally, he stated, “We trialed this approach by implementing a platform, which I prefer to call a personal health record for individuals. It allows patients to make appointments and integrates various health information. The pilot involved a sample of patients from different regions, equipped with sensors and blood glucose level monitors. The outcomes were remarkable in terms of treatment adherence and medication compliance. We’re now planning to extend this to 70% of the population in the region, which will help reduce the cost of our services due to the high demand for governmental services. This strategy also aims to minimise crisis management in our emergency departments.”

Of course, the strategy depends on the domain we choose to focus on. For example, we found that focusing on Home Care Services, which was initially seen as disruptive to the community, turned out to be an effective strategy.

Dr Mohammed Alhamali, Chairman of National Innovation & Sandbox, Chief Innovation Officer – SEHA Virtual Hospital, Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia

“Healthcare is undergoing transformative changes with the introduction of new technologies, reshaping how we deliver healthcare. In this sector, we must tread carefully due to the direct impact on patient quality of life and health. Unlike other industries where innovations can precede regulations – like the rise of apps such as Uber – healthcare demands a more cautious approach. We cannot afford to compromise patient safety; innovations must be introduced in a safe, de-risked environment after thorough technology assessments and disease pathway analyses”, shared Dr Mohammed Alhamali in a session at the 2nd Elets Global Healthcare Summit & Awards.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the challenges of rapidly introducing healthcare apps, some of which potentially jeopardized patient security or provided inaccurate vital signs, leading to uninformed medical decisions. This underscores the need for robust evaluation before adopting new solutions. One significant hurdle is the stringent regulatory framework, which sometimes lacks flexibility. We advocate for a complexity theory approach, viewing innovations from various angles to enhance the effectiveness of our regulations.

He further added, “From the Ministry of Health’s perspective, it’s crucial to involve patients in the journey, ensuring their feedback is reflected. Despite the introduction of groundbreaking innovations, their adoption by doctors and patients can be slow. Resistance to change is a common challenge, highlighting the importance of change management in healthcare organizations.”

We study how to expedite the adoption of cutting-edge technologies like AI, which is increasingly regarded as a medical device in healthcare. For instance, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, AI-based tools must obtain Saudi FDA approval before clinical use. These technologies, whether in clinical trials or as assistant tools, must be carefully evaluated for accountability and liability issues.

Concluding the session, he stated, “Our goal is to ensure that every technology, be it AI, virtual reality, augmented reality, or others, follows a stringent pathway before implementation. This approach is the essence of the regulatory sandbox we have established, aiming to balance innovation with safety and efficacy in healthcare.”

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